Paris Immersion – Discoveries in Unexpected Places

Writers have to be flexible. We must conjure up creativity in the strangest and most difficult conditions.  I’ve taught myself to write in the dark, on my phone, in notebooks, on table serviettes and drink coasters, pretty much anywhere.

To be in Paris, in the world I’m writing about is harrowing at times, but it’s such an inspiring and rich experience. It allows me to add a whole new layer of meaning and texture to my story.

And over the last twenty-four hours I’ve been writing … a lot. In fact I’m up to around 12,000 words in my new draft. I’m deep in my story, living each day in my character’s world … Paris 1942.

Equipment for eating snails … don’t think that’s going to happen

Paris today is not so different … and everywhere there are reminders of where I am, of what used to be and what is now.

In truth, (due in part to my poor grasp of any language other than English) some of my research experiences have not yet yielded the information I need.

Shelves full of French books that I can’t read … means I get more writing done

But I’ve found alternatives in unlikely places.

Seeing the cellars beneath the mosque is one goal that hasn’t yet come to fruition. But when I was putting out the recycling the other day, I discovered a cellar underneath my very own building. One with steps carved into stone, with huge old wooden doors leading who knows where.

Of course I bought a torch and went exploring. I can’t tell you what I found because that’s in my book, but this cellar was exactly the place I was looking for.

For me, writing isn’t just about today’s story or yesterday’s story, it’s about tomorrow’s story as well. I’m always gathering information that could be useful in works to come … stories I might not even have thought of yet. 

So wherever I am, I’m gathering sights, smells, sounds and emotions to add to my scrapbook of experiences.

Have you ever found an important piece of research in an unexpected place?

I’d love you to share your experience here.

Happy writing 🙂


My research trip to Paris has been made possible thanks to the generous support of VicArts.


Warning: Today’s Post is Distressing

Just as research can be inspiring and serendipitous and amazing, it can also leave you feeling like you’ve been kicked in the guts.

Yesterday’s research filled me with sadness and trepidation even before I arrived at the site of the Velodrome d’Hive.

Destroyed by fire in 1959, and now an innocuous looking block of flats, it was the scene of incredible horror during WW11.

The site is currently undergoing refurbishment, and a children’s garden is being built as a tribute to the youngest victims, but the plaque that stands amongst the building equipment and rubble shows the terrible extent of what happened here.

On 16 and 17 July 1942.
13,152 Jews were arrested in Paris and its suburbs, deported and killed at Auschwitz.
In the Winter Velodrome which stood here
4115 children,
2916 women
1129 men
were kept in inhumane conditions by the Vichy government police, on the orders of the Nazi occupiers.
May those who have tried to help them be thanked. May those who died be remembered.

In 1942 these frightened and traumatised children, women and men were rounded up and held at the velodrome for several days in summer heat with little food and water. They were kept there awaiting deportation to transit camps before being removed to Auschwitz where they were murdered.

There are no words to describe what it felt like to stand here.

Memorial sculpture

Almost within sight of the velodrome is another moving monument to this atrocity, a reminder that history should never be repeated.

The French Republic
In tribute to the victims of persecution
Racist and anti-Semitism and crimes
against humanity committed under the authority of the so-called
“Government of the French State” 1940 – 1944
Never forget

A Change of Scenery

Ruben stood at the top of the mosaic-covered stairs. Before him was the most beautiful garden he had ever seen.

Every day I am here in Paris I realise more and more, just how fortunate I am.

Paris is beautiful and amazing and fascinating and different … and I am so lucky to be here.

But more than the wonders of my surroundings, I am lucky because I have choice and freedom.

I can write or not. Any time I choose, I can go back to my real world, to a life that’s so much easier than what my story characters endure.

Kids entertainment in the park

Beyond Belief is a work of fiction so I get to decide things for Ruben and his friends. I also get to make choices as a writer and a person …. choices about my life.

People living in countries at war don’t have these options. War is relentless and cruel and people suffer through it every day of their lives … and die because of it. People fight to protect their country and their loved ones. They fight to find somewhere to live in peace and without fear. They fight for their lives.

It’s important that we tell their stories.

Father swan protects the family

Yesterday I stepped out of the intense world of my story to regain my perspective. I needed space to think and reflect so that I could tell Ruben’s story with authenticity, but with hope.

I went to the Parc Montsouris, and there amidst the beautiful spring vistas and everyday life, I worked on my far from everyday story.

Spring in Paris

Beyond Belief is a story I am compelled to tell. It’s a relatively untold chapter in history and it’s a tribute to courage and the human spirit, and to people who helped each other in time of need regardless of race or religion.

If you’d like to share your experiences about how you balance life and writing about difficult themes or topics, I’d love to hear from you.

Feel free to share in the comments section of this post.


My research trip to Paris has been made possible thanks to the generous support of VicArts.

Trees of Hope and Strength

Mama held him at arm’s length. “You must be strong like the cedars, and the pine trees in in Le Jardin des Plantes. You must not bend like a sapling in the wind. Promise me, Ruben that you will stand tall and fight for what is right no matter what. You must never give up.”

In the version of my manuscript, Beyond Belief, written before I went to Paris, this is what Mama says to Ruben when she drops him off at the Grand Mosque of Paris to keep him safe.

So I was astonished to discover when I got here that Le Jardin des Plantes was so close to the mosque, just across the street in fact … on the other side of Rue Linné.

Trees from Jardin des Plantes visible over the wall of the Paris Mosque

I had stumbled upon Le Jardin des Plantes when I Googled ‘Tall trees that grow in Paris’. I wanted the tree to be a symbol of hope and strength for Ruben. Something of the outside world that might be visible or that he would remember whilst at the mosque.

Tall straight trees in Le Jardin des Plantes

Now here I was, standing in the courtyard looking up at a tall tree from Le Jardin des Plantes as it peered over the walls of the Le Grande Mosquée de Paris.

Le Jardin des Plantes was founded in 1626 and is Paris’ major botanical garden.It is one of seven departments of the Muséum national d’histoire naturelle and covers 28 hectares.

Le Jardin des Plantes was another oasis in the heart of Paris … a city of so much beauty but the scene of so much sorrow.

It’s a stunning gardens … a reminder of renewal and regrowth … of stability amidst turmoil.

Seeing Ruben’s tree peering over the wall of the mosque was a symbolic moment for me. Have you ever had moments like this when you’re researching?

Feel free to share them here.

Happy writing 🙂


My research trip to Paris has been made possible thanks to the generous support of VicArts.

Standing in the World of My Story – The Grand Mosque of Paris

The Grand Mosque of Paris, located in the 5th arrondissement stands 33 metres high and is one of the largest mosques in France. It was so amazing to see it for the first time, the building at the centre of my story, Beyond Belief, a building that I’d only seen in pictures until now.

How incredible it was to view the crisp white domes, and the emerald green tiles that ran through the courtyard like a calming river.

I imagined my character Ruben playing there with his friends, splashing in the fountains, and digging in the garden to plant new vegetable crops.

What an oasis it must have been for those who took shelter there in WW11, away from the cattle trucks crammed with people, roaring past on the Plus du Place du Puits de l’ermite.

The mosque is completely fenced off with huge wooden or iron gates that would have been difficult to penetrate for even the most determined Nazis.

Towering over it is the stunning mosaic covered Minaret where the muezzin calls the people to prayer. I could feel the power of the mosque to calm and protect.

Sitting on the steps in the courtyard and reading over my notes, I immersed myself in the peace around me.

The blue sky of Paris stretched out overhead, broken by old buildings and a tree standing straight and tall in the gardens of the nearby Jardin des Plantes.

There’s nothing quite like being in the actual world of your story … feeling, seeing and smelling those things that your character would experience.

I’d come nearly 17,000 kilometres to do this, and it was certainly worth it.

My first visit to the Grande Mosquée de Paris was incredible and I’m sure it won’t be my last for the month that I am here in Paris.

There’s nothing quite like standing or sitting in the world of your story.

If you’ve shared a similar experience, please feel free to share it in the comments below.

Happy writing:)


My research trip to Paris has been made possible thanks to the generous support of VicArts.

Paris – Day 1

I’ve arrived in Paris to work on Beyond Belief, my novel about the Muslims from the Paris Mosque who saved the lives of Jewish children during WW2.

I’m here for a month thanks to a VicArts grant that will meet most of my travel and accommodation costs.

Yesterday, I reached my destination around 4.30pm, too weary unfortunately to enjoy Saturday night in Paris (but there will be plenty more) 🙂

So amazing to look out of the 4th storey window and watch the passing parade … lovers deep in conversation, one clutching a huge bunch of flowers. A small boy with a scooter whose mother, her arms laden with shopping, couldn’t quite catch him.
Across the road, I watched another small child and his father tending their balcony garden. The sun was out and people seemed happy here.

Even the taxi driver from the airport, Joseph was still smiling, despite the fact that my plane was 90 minutes late.

It was so lovely to lie in bed and listen to the sounds around me … a jolly Saturday evening with people singing and making harmless merriment in the streets.

Today … more Paris immersion … the shouts of the fishmonger trying to divest himself of the last produce before closing time,  the roar of a motorbike speeding down our narrow street … and the honking of impatient motorists eager to reach their destinations. The scent of the first blossoms of spring, are wafting onto the balcony as I write.

There are lots of markets in Paris

Today is also research planning day.

Beyond Belief is set in a dark time in world history, but it’s also a story of hope and humanity … where regardless of race or religion, people reached out and risked their own lives to help others.

The research will not be easy so my plan is to take it in small stages that I can manage both physically and emotionally.

My trip to Paris is all about immersing myself in the reality of my main character, Ruben’s story … of going to the places he went … of trying to understand how his life would have been in Paris with the ever present fear that soldiers would take him and he would never see his family and friends again.

Research can be overwhelming. It can be easy to get lost in it both physically … and emotionally … to be so focussed on the trail of fact that you never get to write your story.

So today I’m planning my research in advance – working out exactly what I need to find out … and where I have to go. Here’s the list of places I plan to visit:

  • The Paris mosque
  • The sewer tour
  • The Bercy wine market
  • A cruise down the river Seine
  • The site of the Velodrome d’Hiver where more than 11,000 Jewish people were held after the Vel d’Hive round up while awaiting transportation to concentration camps
  • Mémorial des Martyrs de la Déportation- a memorial to the 200,000 people who were deported from Vichy France to the Nazi concentration camps during World War II
  • Shoah Memorial Museum
  • Le Jardin des Plantes

Ruben is a fictional character, but I owe it to the real people who lived and died during this terrible time, to tell their stories.

Thanks for sharing this journey with me.

If you have any research tips or comments I’d love you to share them.

Happy writing 🙂


My research trip to Paris has been made possible thanks to the generous support of VicArts.

Character Relationships and their importance in your story

I love getting feedback on my blog and answering people’s writing questions.

Riaha wants to know …

Why is it important for a character in a book to have more than one relationship?

Riaha, this post is for you.


Here are FIVE reasons why I think a character in a book needs more than one relationship.

  1. Multiple relationships give us an opportunity to show different aspects of a character

In real life we often have very different views of people. Take some of our politicians for example. The people who vote for them have a very different perspective from those who vote against them.

For example, a politician who is seen as arrogant and cruel by some might be seen as caring by his/her family or a voter they have helped in the past.

Having relationships with various characters allows us to see different sides to our main character … the good and the bad.

As in real life, we reveal different parts of ourselves to different people.

2. It allows us to create a character that readers are more likely to engage with.

If we see a character relating to other characters and they like him or her, this creates an opportunity for us to show what makes this character likeable, and this makes a reader more inclined to like them.

A reader is more likely to connect with someone if they see that others think they are a good person.

  1. Gives a more balanced perspective

By seeing things from different points of view, not just what the main character thinks about a relationship, this allows the reader to assess things in their own mind and come to their own conclusions about whether the main character is credible.

For example, if our main character believes that they are well liked because they are always kind, but other people don’t see them that way because they have been unkind in the past, this allows us to assess whether the main character should be believed in other judgments they make as well.

Or another example, what if a character thinks another character loves them, but the opposite is true? In this instance, our main character’s relationship with someone else could be used to reveal this truth.

  1. Relationships can reveal things about setting and plot

For example, if our main character’s partner works in a night club, this allows the writer to reveal certain thing about that partner and the place they work.

But if the main character’s brother is a priest then this gives the writer a chance to show a different setting, and also a possible source of conflict in the story.

  1. Relationships add layers and conflict.

As in the example above, if our main character has two people they love who have potentially opposing views then this will create a dilemma/possible conflict for our character, allowing them to reveal more of who they are to the reader. How they handle this dilemma will give us information about the sort of person they are.

If the story only showed the relationship between the main character and their partner, this would be a lost opportunity for conflict and would only show us how our main character reacts to one person, their loved one.

Showing a character’s relationship with someone they hated would reveal completely different things about them.

Relationships are often the basis of sub plots. They enrich and add depth to a story.

Thanks Riaha for your great question. I hope you found my response helpful.

If any other writers have experiences that demonstrate why it’s important for a character to have more than one relationship, feel free to share them in the comments section of this post.

Also, feel free to ask your own writing question and I’ll answer it hear on this blog in May (after I get back from Paris).

Happy writing 🙂